The 'timeless art' of Quentin Carnaille
The man who makes sculptures out of broken watch pieces
May 08, 2016
If you ever met Quentin Carnaille, asking him for the time would be a waste of yours. While his wrist may appear to have a rather chunky 42mm stainless steel case fastened to it with a leather strap, it does not keep good time – or any time.
The piece is actually one of the French artist’s own art works – a portable sculpture made from a clever combination of magnetism and vintage watch parts. Carnaille’s ‘watch’ is part of his very limited-edition set known as The Last Watch. Rather than stressing the importance of timekeeping, the collection of pieces focuses instead on the creative and aesthetic beauty of watches as accessories.
But Carnaille’s artistic obsession with timepieces is not limited to just his wrist. His interest extends to a whole range of works that use broken and recycled pieces of vintage watch parts to create some incredible and precise sculptures.
Born in northern France in 1984, from a young age Carnaille’s creative and constructive interests would lead him to pursue an education in architecture. The knowledge he gained would give him a firm grounding to go and channel his creativity into one of this other passions: timepieces.
In 2008, with less than a year left before graduating, Carnaille created a pair of cufflinks using identical watch movements for his father’s birthday. It would be his very first piece, and would open his eyes to a style of art that had plenty of untapped potential.
Fast-forward nearly a decade and Carnaille has continued to develop his craft, exploring the concept of time to create several award-winning works including Apesnanteur – a spinning, levitating disc sculpture made from 10,000 watch parts held in place by magnets – which he exhibited at this year’s Design Days Dubai, courtesy of the M.A.D Gallery. It was here that Esquire sat down with Carnaille to discuss his past, present, future and his understanding of time.
ESQ. When did you first realise you wanted to be in the creative world?
QC: When I was a little boy, I enjoyed building treehouses. I liked making them big and comfortable. At age 12, I built my first treehouse with pallets, and nowadays it is a legitimate building technique used all over the world! I also created numerous objects, like a pool table that can be turned into a ping-pong table. Creation without limits has always been my thing.
Although you are an artist, you originally trained as an architect. Why did you switch?
Architecture is still my passion and has taught me a lot. Above all, it has taught me precision, in terms of calculations, and also perfection.
But it has also taught me the need for energy to defend a project and to make it done by other types of trade. Architecture must fit the client’s will, but also town-planning standards and budget. Architecture is a tool that is necessary for man to live, whereas art goes beyond and raises man towards thought. Where everything is possible, standards do not exist, and creation is boundless. It is a deep, infinite field of experiment.
How did your interest in timepieces come about?
At first, my idea was to reveal the beauty of an object that wasn’t originally designed to be beautiful! The aesthetics of a clockwork is obvious. Yet, this beauty is a mere consequence of gathering clockwork pieces created to give the time.
Tell us about the cufflinks you made for your father?
It was a little idea that I had, because he was passionate about antiques. I found two small identical clockwork movements at a flea market, and the idea crossed my mind to make them into a pair of cufflinks. He loved them, but more than that, the process encouraged me that I could do so much more with it.
How did your work evolve?
Because my father was very touched by gift, he wore them often. One day, a Parisian shopkeeper noticed them and approached me to create others for his shop window. The pieces became very popular, but I quickly became bored of making them over and over again. That’s when I sat down to create something new, and came up with my first watch that doesn’t tell the time. The idea of time became my obsession. I tried to explore the secrets of time as revealed by artistic creation.
Why create ‘watches’ that don’t tell time?
Time is a notion. A concept. An idea. It doesn’t exist. These watches remind us of the fact that time is relative. We understand time differently according to our age, according to the experience of good or bad moments. Albert Einstein said: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” I like the idea of wandering art, so the pieces
I create are works that can be worn. Anyway, today it’s easy to find out the time. You just check your phone.
Are we right in saying that the rapper 50 Cent wears one of your pieces? How did that happen?
It all was a bit strange. He was performing a gig in Lille, and I knew the guy who ran the venue. Backstage, I gave 50 Cent a timeless watch without explaining what it was, and he immediately got the idea. He looked at it and said “I check the time on my mobile phone!” but two days later, he traded his enormous diamond watch for my own that didn’t tell the time!
Where do you find the watch parts for your works?
Anywhere really. I hunt for them at flea markets, but I also look in old Parisian or Swiss clockmakers’ discarded stashes. Sometimes, watch factories dispose of their rejected parts so I’ll find them there.
What future projects are you working on?
I am currently working on the two notions of time and space. They are both different but, ultimately, inseparable. I’m spending all my time researching the intertwining of these two notions, so that I can create something that best represents my interpretation of them.
What is the most important thing an artist should do?
An artist must feel free. It is necessary to ceaselessly question what you do, but also to keep a clear unifying theme in mind.